Sunday, August 4, 2019

A Very Candid Conservation with Matt Wayne

Matt Wayne is a singer-songwriter and guitarist. He played in various metal bands until, he met bassist/vocalist JuJu. Together, they performed at gigs and open-mic nights until they formed a band called the Blood Moon Howlers. The name of the group came about in 2015 when they were at a party. There was a blood moon that night, and they went up on the roof and howled at the moon. On their website, their music is described as “whiskey drenched heavy swamp blues rock,” with “flecks of smokey burlesque.” 

In 2017, the Blood Moon Howlers released their first EP Wasteland with Scott Wittenberg on drums. Scott was only filling in temporarily until Brandon Cooke took over drums on a permanent basis. The Blood Moon Howlers also included Evan Hatfield who plays sax and keyboards. The new four piece band can be heard on their latest album, Mad Man’s Ruse (2019) as well as their EP The Hangover Sessions (2019), which is a trio of acoustic versions of songs from Mad Man’s Ruse. Also this year, they released a cover of Prince’s “Partyman” in tribute to the thirtieth anniversary of the Nicholson/Keaton Batman movie. “Partyman” is played in the movie when Nicholson’s Joker and his men trash an art museum.

In this candid conversation, we talked about Matt’s beginnings before the Blood Moon Howlers, how the Blood Moon Howlers formed, their multiple recordings and future plans. I want to thank Nichole Peters from Jensen Communications for setting up the interview, but most of all I want to thank Matt.

Jeff Cramer: All right, so what sparked your interest in music?

Matt Wayne: Let's see, I think I was in a music shop one day with my mom, and we were kind of cruising around. The guitar just caught my eye, so that was sort of it. I used to sit around reading comics when I was a kid, and I would throw on music in the background, and that just slowly turned into a love, you know?

JC: When you got into the guitar, was there any guitarist you admired, like say, “Hey, I want to play like that!”?

MW: Yeah, definitely. The first guitar I ever got was a Fender Stratocaster, and that was definitely because of Eddie Van Halen. Van Halen’s first album was one of the first CDs that we had in my house growing up. That was what kind of sparked that whole thing.

JC: I was reading in the bio section of your website that you had played in several metal bands before the Blood Moon Howlers.

MW:  I played with a band called the Changing with a guy named Kalen Chase. He played around with Korn. Joey Jordison from Slipknot was there, and we did that band for about a year or so.

Then I played with Bruce Bouillet, who played guitar for a heavy metal band called Racer X in the late eighties. Other than that, I just played in garage bands and stuff like that, which were all kind of different variations of metal. When I first started, I was into a lot of power metal, like Iron Maiden and that kind of stuff. As time went on, it got a little bit heavier.

JC: All right. So talk about the Blood Moon Howlers . . . how did that group form? 

MW: Well, the group started with JuJu and I, the other singer. We started playing together, doing a lot of acoustic stuff. I had been in a bunch of bands, and I wanted to take a step back from being in a band for a while. JuJu and I just started doing a bunch of acoustic cover songs to kind of learn how to sing together.

We were taking on a lot of gigs—doing open mics and a lot of hired gigs playing covers. It was a time to learn how to sing together, how to perform together, how to write a song together.

Then we started the Blood Moon Howlers because we wanted to get away from doing strictly acoustic music. We wanted to do a rock-and-roll kind of feeling.

JC: And that’s when other people joined?

MW: The first EP, Wasteland, that JuJu and I did as the Blood Moon Howlers was actually with a drummer named Scott Wittenberg, who I had known. We performed around with Scotty for a bit, but he was just kind of filling in as a friend.

The Blood Moon Howlers as a trio with Scotty (2017) (Matt left)

Then we met Brandon—our current drummer— at a gig, and he came up to us and said, “Oh, I love your music and stuff.” Then a show came up where Scotty couldn't make it, so we called Brandon and it's just been fun ever since.

JC: On the EP Wasteland, one of the songs, "Lady Daydream,” has an interesting structure. When you're singing the verses, it's kind of reggae-like, and then it's more rock in the chorus.

MW:  One of the things that started the Blood Moon Howlers is the concept of writing music. I always see fliers that bands put out, or people trying to start bands, and every one of them says something like,  “Hey, I like these five bands. If you like these five bands, please give me a call. Let's start a band.” It seems that those bands end up just sounding like some knockoff of the bands that they've listed on the flier.

For our band, what we were hoping to achieve is to work with a lot of people who were like-minded in the sense that we all love a lot of different kinds of music. A lot of times, we're just sort of experimenting with different influences and stuff, so hopefully the music comes out more interesting. [To hear “Lady Daydream,” click here.]

The Blood Moon Howlers’ first EP Wasteland

“Lady Daydream” just sort of came from where we grew up in California—we're around a lot of the  Long Beach–reggae thing. It was a big part of our lives, but then we also love a lot of the stoner–desert rock kind of music thing. We just sort of had this idea of what it would be like to fuse those two worlds, and that was our shot at that.

JC: The Blood Moon Howlers don’t sound like Fleetwood Mac, but it reminds me of Fleetwood Mac because there’s a combination of male and female lead vocals.

MW:  Oh, very cool. I mean, I haven't grown up listening to Fleetwood Mac, but I know they're all very great musicians and stuff, so I appreciate that.

JC: And from Fleetwood Mac, we go to Johnny Cash. What made you decide to do Johnny Cash's "Cocaine Blues"?

MW:  I had been performing a lot of these songs that were just sad songs. I'd been doing a ton sad songs, and they were real slow. It was sort of becoming difficult to perform, because I just ended up feeling a lack of energy.

And so when I was doing a lot of the cover stuff, I was trying to find songs that were fun to listen to, and I guess that one is definitely a sad song still, but it was a lot more fun to tell a story like that. I mean, if you've heard the Johnny Cash version you know there is a lot of story in that song.

JC: Yes, I have. 

MW:  And it was really fun. I had been performing that song for a long time, and when it came time to cover it we were kind of like, “What can we do a little different with it?” So we flipped it into a minor key and just kind of changed the melody around a bit and turned things around a little. It was really from wanting to play some more like fun, bluesy-sounding music. [To hear a live version of “Cocaine Blues,” click here.]

JC: Yeah. The other song that you sing on Wasteland, "Motor Mouth Mission,” has a punk energy to it.

MW: Yes. I mean,  I was going for like punk–blues—a lot of the chord progressions, a lot of the soloing vibe, and it’s very bluesy, at least from my perspective. Then again, I grew up listening to punk bands like Black Flag, Minor Threat, Fugazi . . . stuff like that. So it seemed sort of natural to bring that in a little bit too. [To hear “Motor Mouth Mission,” please click here.]

JC: Having talked about various songs on Wasteland, let’s go over the songwriting process you and JuJu go into creating a song.

MW: I think there is always a portion of songwriting that I feel is a little bit separate. JuJu and I use a concept that I call “banking” where we just compile ideas. My phone is completely full with guitar riffs, and there are papers all around our house that have lyric ideas.

Usually we designate some time to come together and start talking about song ideas, and then we just start piecing together all the ideas.

There is always a portion of it that's very spontaneous, even though it’s coming from a lot of ideas compiled, but it's really awesome to not lose any momentum. So it's kind of nice to have all those backed-up ideas, you know?

JC: When it comes to a song, how do you and JuJu decide who will take lead vocals?

MW: There is a couple of different factors. Sometimes, it’s like, “Hey, this is going to be my song,” and then sometimes it's like, “Hey, I wrote the lyrics.” Overall though, I think there is definitely times when one of us will just sound better on the song. It's another fun part of songwriting, which is just this idea of, “Hey, if you're singing really heavy lyrics, it might be kind of cool to explore a different method of delivering those lyrics besides just screaming them or yelling them.” We’ve been doing a lot of messing around with the delivery of lyrics, whether it's singing heavy, singing soft. I guess that also kind of comes into play with deciding who is singing it, or who we feel takes on the character of the song the best.

JC: What model of guitar do you play?

MW: Nowadays, I've been pretty much just playing a Fender Telecaster. I got a couple of those. I have this silver, sparkly one, and I've got a very plain-looking Telecaster, but that pretty much shows up on all of our music nowadays.

JC: The band went on to become a four-piece band.

MW: We added Evan Hatfield through the process of recording Mad Man's Ruse. Evan plays saxophone, keys and stuff.

JC: The saxophone is an interesting element to bring to the music. How did bringing a saxophone come into play?

MW:  Oh, that basically comes from my love of the 1970s–era Tom Waits. If you've ever heard his Nighthawks at the Diner album or where it's got that late-night-vibe thing. So that's sort of where my love of that comes from.

We were performing as a three piece, and both JuJu and I are singing and playing instruments, and then just the drums. But it was nice to have an extra musician to take some of the pressure off of trying to sing lead vocals and play lead guitar, rhythm guitar.

It was nice to add a different dimension to it as well. It also kind of just fell into our laps a little bit too—our drummer Brandon played in the band Paracosmic with Evan. And we ended up playing a bunch of shows with them, and went on tour with them.

The whole thing with Evan joining the band happened when we were on tour, and Evan just started playing with us every night. At one point when we were driving around, he said, “So can I stay and play with you guys now or what?” So he threw it up on his Instagram that he was in the band and we figured it was real from there.

The Blood Moon Howlers as a four-piece band (2019) (Matt far right)

JC: Now let’s go to the EP Hangovers Sessions, which is a bit of teaser album for the new album, Mad Man’s Ruse.  It contains three acoustic versions of songs that appeared on Mad Man’s Ruse.

MW:  So what JuJu and I have done is try to experiment with a song. We grew up in an era with MTV Unplugged and stuff like that, where you got to see bands play. A lot of times the charm of it was that they were a very heavy band.

The Hangover Sessions EP (2019)

And then you get to see this whole different version of that heavy song brought down to like acoustic or just like a mellower version or whatever. It just sparks the idea that these songs are just some chords, melody, and you can really do a whole lot with them.

So it's a real fun thing for us that I think we'll probably continue doing in the future when we'll be releasing a version that's maybe heavy blues, and then we'll be releasing ones that are a different take on that same song with an acoustic guitar and broken down like nightclub background music stuff.

It’s really fun to experiment with a song and see how many different ways it can take you.

JC: One of my favorite things in the bar is going to the jukebox and putting on music I like as I drink a beer. Well, the "Drunk and Cold" song feels like a great song to drink a beer to.

MW: Awesome. That's the goal with that one for sure. I mean, that's what we love to do too—relax, head out to the bar and hang around, drink a beer, throw on some good music, you know. [To hear “Drunk and Cold,” click here.]

 The Hangover Sessions was done after recording Mad Man's Ruse. Then it seemed kind of useless to release a song now without a plan, so we have been working with the PR company and a manager to actually make the release a little bit more than if we were just to throw it up online without anything, you know?

Besides wanting to have a game plan for the release of Mad Man's Ruse, one thing that sort of postponed the release was adding Evan onto all the tracks. That was also was when we ended up recording The Hangover Sessions.

JC: I also understand you did a cover of Prince’s "Partyman" as a single.

MW: Yeah, so "Partyman" was kind of a fun one, just because we recorded that all in our home studio. We did that basically for the Batman movie with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. So the movie turned thirty when we released the song. It was the thirty-year anniversary, and we decided to take the song from that scene where the Joker is going through the art museum . . .

JC: Trashing the art museum, I remember.

MW: And that's the song going on in the background. That was always my favorite scene of that movie.

JC: Yeah, it’s one of my favorite scenes of that movie.

MW: And so we decided to take that song and do something with it, which was interesting because there is not really chord progression in that song. It’s kind of a wild, interesting song. We actually almost took the words and made our own thing with it.

JC: But what’s interesting is Prince’s version fits the scene of the Joker trashing the art museum. In your version of "Partyman,”  it feels more like a melancholy piano ballad.

MW: Oh, okay. Yeah, that’s an interesting perspective on it. We thought it was maybe bringing a nightclub kind of vibe to it. We're definitely going for different, that’s for sure. Maybe we're shooting for more like Heath Ledger, if he was doing that scene. [To hear “Partyman,” click here.]

JC: Your new album, Mad Man’s Ruse, was released on July 26, 2019. What to expect from the new album?

The Blood Moon Howlers’ Mad Man’s Ruse (2019)

MW:  When we recorded Wasteland, that one was very special to us because it was the first thing that we did. And it was recorded all over the place, which I think is kind of a charm for modern recording—everyone is flying around tracks from studio to studio.

I think a long time ago, people would hear these recordings that were done all in one studio, so you get kind of this one vibe, whereas nowadays I think where the vibe comes from is actually different home studios and recording in multiple places. It kind of creates something unique.

This one is not a ton different from that, but it was all done in one studio, and then at the end we added Evan, and that was recorded at Brandon's studio. We ended up redoing some vocals and things like that all over the place.

Overall, I would say it's a little bit more put together than the last album. It was also an album that we were exploring a lot of blues structures on, where I think in Wasteland we were still kind of working out of a lot more pop structures.

JC: Yes.

MW: Even though Wasteland's not very pop. It still kind of worked out of that verse-and-chorus kind of setup. On Mad Man’s Ruse, we were working out of a lot of twelve-bar patterns and a lot of sixteen bar and eight bar different classic blues structures. We didn't stick specific to any of that stuff, but we did kind of use it as a tool when we were building the songs.

So there is a lot of exploration of the blues format, which I think we were able to update with modern guitar tones and . . . I don’t know, just our own take on the whole thing.

JC: Any songs you want to highlight for this new album?

MW:I guess the one we'd want to highlight is "Lose Myself (Bar 9).”  [To hear a live acoustic version of “Lose Myself (Bar 9),” click here.] I think that one is probably the band's favorite. It was one of the more last-minute songs on there, and it felt purely collaborative with Brandon. It was one of the first times where Brandon actually suggested a whole section of the song—it’s that whole kind of psychedelic middle crazy section. It’s like Santana's "Soul Sacrifice" or something . . . that whole middle section.

It was just a very spontaneous addition to the song. Anyway, that is one of the songs that didn't totally follow a blues structure—it’s maybe more like a Wasteland-style pop structure.

It actually has a chorus and stuff, but then the bridge is sort of inspired by jam bands and stuff like that. I think that was a cool marriage between a heavy rock song with a chorus and everything, and then a sort of complete jam band middle section. I guess that would be a highlight.

"Drunk and Cold" is another cool song just because the parallel of that being on The Hangover Sessions. Sorry, I’m going to ask JuJu real quick what she thinks about we should be mentioned on the album.

JC: Oh, she is here? 

[JuJu can be faintly heard in the background.]

MW: Yeah. I’m going to say for both of us that we want to go with "Mad Man's Ruse" because it's the title of the album. [To hear “Mad Man’s Ruse,” click here.]

JC: Yeah. So this is the title track?

MW: Yeah.

JC:  We spoke earlier about the movie Batman, and I understand a song on Mad Man’s Ruse was also contributed to a short indie film titled Sugar Babe.

MW: Yes, we contributed to a short film called Sugar Babe, which is through a friend of ours named Summer Vaughan. She does really, really wonderful stuff. She liked a lot of our music. She approached us with a couple of the songs that we had recorded and kind of gave us like, “Can you guys mix this with that?”

She gave us the script, and we wrote that song in two days. That was kind of the quickest song we wrote on the album. Then we went and tracked everything—we did all of the tracking in one day. That was actually the first song that Evan played on. [To hear a live acoustic version of “Sugar Babe,” click here.]

JC: Are there plans to tour behind this album?

MW: Absolutely. We have dates being set up as we speak. We have a weekend set up in summer, we have a weekend set up in October, and then we're working on November dates right now.

JC: I understand you’re going to release party for Mad Man’s Ruse tonight. [Note: It was July 20, 2019, when Matt and I spoke.]

MW: It's actually tomorrow night, so I'm really excited for it. We got a bunch of good bands playing. They’re real friendly bands that have been real supportive to us throughout our time as the Blood Moon Howlers and stuff. So it's a real close group of people.

We're doing it at Lucky Strike in Hollywood, and I think it's going to be a pretty epic night. It's going to be a lot of fun.

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